After 36 starts and 255 stellar innings, Clayton Kershaw finally let the Dodgers down on Friday, giving up seven runs in three-plus innings in Game 6 loss to the Cardinals. The defense played a role, but Kershaw was the first to admit afterwards that he just wasn’t his usual self. Maybe it was a bad day. Perhaps that first ever start on three days’ last week played a role. Regardless, it simply wasn’t meant to be tonight. At least he can take some solace in the likelihood that the end result would have been the same had he merely allowed two or three runs.
Now, the free-spending Dodgers enter a winter with question marks at two infield spots. They have to sort out what they’re going to do with their four starting outfielders in Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier. They’ll also have to decide whether to spend the money to add to a rotation that is sure to include Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu and is due to get back Josh Beckett (shoulder) for the opener and Chad Billingsley (elbow) in May.
But, most of all, the Dodgers need to make a deal with Kershaw, who is entering his final year of arbitration and who will be eligible for free agency next winter.
It shouldn’t be overly difficult, even though the deal will almost surely be the biggest ever for a pitcher. The market is already set after the Tigers gave Justin Verlander what amounted to a five-year, $140 million extension in March. It just remains to be seen whether Kershaw will hold out for $30 million per season or if he’ll settle for something in the $28 million range with an extra guaranteed season or two. Frankly, there’s no reason for him to take less than $30 million.
It will get done. The Dodgers have too much money to risk letting a $20 million-$30 million gap stand in the way of a deal. They’ll almost certainly have to pay more if they wait until he’s a free agent; both the Yankees and Red Sox should have plenty of flexibility next winter and they wouldn’t be the only ones willing to go $30 million and beyond.
The Dodgers have signed lefty Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract.The deal was reported to be imminent over the weekend, but was finalized today following Hill’s physical.
Hill missed a good deal of time in 2016 with blister issues — and he’ll be 37-years-old on Opening Day — but when he was healthy he was fantastic, posting the best season in his 12-year career. He had a a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings between the Athletics and Dodgers.
Along with a healthy Clayton Kershaw a maturing Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers rotation looks to be a strength in 2017.
UPDATE: Buster Olney reports that a deal is in place pending a physical. The financial terms are not yet known. UPDATE: Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears it’s in the four-year, $62 million range. That will make him, temporarily at least, the highest-paid closer in baseball history.
12:15 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Francisco Giants are close to a deal with closer Mark Melancon.
Melancon had an outstanding 2016, posting a 1.64 ERA, 2.42 FIP and a 5.42 K/BB rate in 71.1 innings while saving 47 games for the Pirates and Nationals. You may recall that the Giants had a strong interest in Melancon last summer. It was a well-founded interest given the bullpen woes which waylaid San Francisco in the second half of last season and continued on into the playoffs.
The terms of the apparently impeding deal will be known soon enough, but Rosenthal reported yesterday that Melancon was fielding offers in the four-years, $60 million range. That’s a lot for a closer, but it’ll probably look like a bargain compared to the deals signed with the other two top closers on the market, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Some have speculated that Chapman could get a deal closer to $100 million than $50 million, though that seems optimistic.
What the past couple of seasons have shown, however, is that having a top bullpen will get you very, very far in Major League Baseball. Champan may have been gassed at the end of Game 7, but he was essential to the Cubs’ World Series title. Powerful bullpens gave the Royals a title in 2015 and the Indians an AL pennant this past year. A weak one was, obviously, the Giants’ achilles heel.
Their great need at the back end of the pen, according to Rosenthal’s report, is apparently about to be filled.